Performances complement the talents of director Philip John in this simply drawn but intricately characterised rites of passage comedy-drama. Martin Carr takes a closer look…
This low budget rites of passage road trip movie from director Philip John is simplistically penned by Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel, using minimal locations to maximum effect. Jack Parry-Jones, Christy O’Donnell and Tara Lee form an unlikely trio of protagonists as we journey across The Shetlands onto Oakney before landing in mainland Scotland. Using the isolated lifestyle of these characters to create drama, comedy and pathos raises Moon Dogs above the herd.
A simple premise is played out against large city locations and majestic Highland scenery as the muted performances of Parry-Jones and O’Donnell counterpoint perfectly with Lee. There are other character actors which fill out the ranks, bringing credibility and depth to two-dimensional creations but these three hold your focus. Shot with precision, economy and available resources this feels similar in part to the original Trainspotting, as local nuances breathe a rich back history in between the silences.
Narrow minded opinion, comedic self-importance and the foibles of youth all unfurl as Michael, Thor and Caitlin come closer to Glasgow. The trio never grandstand or steal scenes from one another giving Moon Dogs a real sense of ensemble. Heartbreak and jubilation combine with drug use and adolescent carnal fumbling as these three experience epiphanies both on their own and together. Boyle and Friel’s script is down to earth and feels lived in, while Philip John’s mastery of tone means things remain balanced if a little heightened at times. However this control has as much to do with the delicate performances on display especially from Lee.
By turns the femme fatale and temptress then seconds later leader, tomboy, and hard case, Lee plays with expectations and manipulates emotion with relaxed abandon. Damaged in a way which is never really revealed she uses her skill to latch onto others and propel things forward. Parry-Jones also does adolescent confusion and big kid emotions carefully, emoting just enough to make Michael sympathetic without creating a sap. O’Donnell adversely gives us a strong brooding muso stereotype with abandonment issues, unable to connect to a father who tries so hard to meet him halfway. Their relationship which is founded on repressed emotion and false hope is pivotal in defining Thor as a person. When that unravels in the latter stages of this measured piece of work the effect is devastating, marking O’Donnell out for stardom should people be paying attention.
With the release of Moon Dogs there is every chance Philip John will reinvigorate Scottish cinema just as Danny Boyle did back in the Nineties with his seminal work. Bringing a certain colloquial charm, honest characterisation and situational humour back into cinema, should go some way to making Moon Dogs a great spring board for an up and coming talent.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Philip John
Written by: Derek Boyle, Raymond Friel
Starring: Jack Parry-Jones, Christy O’Donnell, Tara Lee
Released: 2016 / Genre: Comedy-Drama
Country: UK/Ireland / IMDB
Moon Dogs was released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on September 1.